I like snow up in the mountains, where it belongs. Down here in the lowlands where I live, I find snow to be inconvenient at best, annoying, arresting, and mildly dangerous when I want to go anyplace by foot and worse via bicycle.
In recent years, my desire to ramble remains strong, but doing so on my bicycle instead of my boat, has been growing. I like the simplicity and the added exercise involved compared to just letting the wind push me along. I also appreciate that when I’m tired, I can stop almost anyplace without worrying about hitting rocks, being in a shipping lane, or otherwise getting clobbered by the forces of nature.
That said, I’d pinned way too many of my winter hopes for adventure biking on snow melting.
“We’re going to pedal up the mountain in late spring,” I told everyone, “before the gates are open, but after the snow melts.”
“It’s going to be the best season opener, ever,” I bragged. And it would be, but the snow held stubbornly into May.
My neighbors Jeff and Vern had recently gotten new bikes and they were as excited as I was. They took several scouting rides on the mountain. Each week they noted snow. Lots of it. Then finally one day, the report came back: the conditions seemed passable.
I put word out to the crew: Two pelotons, one to three days, 4,055 feet. Ride from Portland to the top, camp out for one or two nights, pedal home. Or ride the whole deal in one day. Why: Because it’s going to be awesome and you’ll feel tough and accomplished when you’ve made the full circuit, even if you are partially frozen because it is so cold up top!
My inbox lit up with interest. There was so much chatter in the end, that I wasn’t entirely sure who was coming. On departure day, four other brave souls turned up: Jeff, Vern, Vince, West.
As we pedaled away from my house, my phone showed that more people promised to come the next day: We’re coming. I’m coming with Josh, no wait, I’m going on my own, well, maybe I’m not turning up after all…
Like the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, the five of us toiled up river, up the mountain, slowly, steadily, constantly going up. Scarcely going down. Our 50+ pound bikes magically getting heavier as we climbed. Still, it was a beautiful day, not too hot, not too cold. There was a new portion of the route for each of us, which lead to a feeling of discovery, and everyone had brought luxury goods: homemade cookies, chips and salsa, booze.
After hours of pedaling, the temperature seemed only to drop and mist materialized high in the trees, which turned to a damp dripping fog. I had picked out a wooded camping spot called Base Camp, but let’s just say we got a little turned around. A neighbor yelled at us. We saw bear tracks on the ground. Dogs mysteriously started barking. By the time it was dark, we were all happily exhausted and glad to find peace in our tents.
Come morning, I had messages from five people in three different groups who were en route. Without any firm means to tell them where we were or what time to meet, I realized a slight flaw in my planning.
Vern and Jeff got a head start going up to the top. The rest of us stood around for a while wondering if we should wait, when a rider approached on the road- Tom! He couldn’t find anyone else that morning and came up alone.
West and Tom headed up, while Vince and I pondered what to do. We realized that moving at a snail’s pace, everyone else who was actually coming, would catch up- and besides, it was getting darn cold just standing around.
An hour later we’d climbed a few hundred feet through the towering fir trees, slipped around a gate, stopped to filter water from a stream pulsing with snowmelt, and when we found a patch of sunlight, we paused for lunch- right in the road. This was exactly why I’d come; to go at my own pace, to take in the scene.
Just as we finished, along rolled Frank, Julie, and Josh. We pedaled and chatted gleefully even as the air got colder and foggier. We rounded a bend, then we saw it: the dreaded snow.
It was worse than I imagined it would be. Thick, mildly squishy, and as far as I could see. Frank took a few steps and refused to go any farther. After posing for photos, our friends turned back.
Vince and I talked about heading downhill right then and there. Where were Jeff, Vern, and West we wondered? We leaned our bikes against a tree and trudged up hill, where we found that the snow wasn’t really that bad.
Sure enough, at the top there was only a bit of snow and the rest of the crew looking rather satisfied with their position. I had to admit that despite a bit of snow, getting up that high under our own power really was a good feeling.
As we rolled down and down the mountain in the morning, smiles on our faces, I soaked in a thousand shades of green. Herbs, shrubs, trees damp with mist, flush with spring growth filled my eyes and I felt a deep sense of peace.
Nobody said a word, but I knew it was the best season opener ever.